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Tajikistan: En Route To West, Trafficked Drugs Leave Social Crisis In Their Wake

The United Nations on 16 June announced it is allocating $10 million to help Tajikistan in its fight against drug smuggling. Tajikistan is a regular gateway for Afghan heroin and opium traveling toward Russia and Europe. As they travel west, the illicit drugs have left a social crisis in their wake -- growing cases of heroin addition and drug-related HIV infection.

Prague, 18 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- "Jamsheed" is a heroin addict registered at a drug rehabilitation center in Dushanbe. Jamsheed says he still suffers unbearable cravings for heroin, but does not have the money to buy the drug. At times like these, he goes to a drug dealer, who gives him a small portion of heroin in return for his services as a smuggler. Jamsheed travels to southern Tajikistan and transfers heroin back to the capital.

"[Transferring drugs] is not easy, but, well, we take risks," he told RFE/RL. "I deliver the goods to the boys and they pay me. I receive some [drugs] for my personal use, to get high, and I also get some money from the boys in order not to die from hunger. Look, I'm nearly 29 years old. There are no jobs here. What should I do?"

Jamsheed is one of 8,000 registered heroin addicts in Tajikistan. However, experts say that the real number of drug addicts and people who use heroin and opium is actually much higher.

With a 1,400-kilometer border with Afghanistan, the world's largest opium producer, Tajikistan has become a major transit point for drug traffickers.

Avaz Yuldoshev, the spokesman for Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, told RFE/RL the drug flow from Afghanistan into Tajikistan has increased in the past 18 months. "Last year more than 7 tons of drugs -- including 4 tons of heroin -- were seized on the territory of Tajikistan by the Tajik forces and Russian border guards. In the past five months they seized 4,680 kilos of drugs, including 3,159 kilos of heroin," Yuldoshev said.

Tajik authorities are concerned that drug trafficking -- believed to be the major source of finances for terrorist groups operating in the area -- is threatening regional stability. They say drug traffickers have become more organized and better-equipped, and their trafficking operations more sophisticated.

The trafficking of illicit drugs has left Tajikistan -- and all of Central Asia -- facing a severe social crisis, as the number of heroin addicts skyrockets. Experts say the growing rate of infections of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is also due to heroin use and needle sharing.

Abdullah Kodirov, the acting head of the Drug Rehabilitation Center in Sughd Oblast, told RFE/RL at least 10 young people died from heroin overdoses last year in Sughd alone.

Kodirov, who has worked with drug-dependent patients for years, said drug dealers usually give free narcotics to young people. Once they are addicted, the dealers force them to smuggle heroin or find new clients.

But the primary cause of the growing number of drug users, Kodirov said, is widespread unemployment and a lack of opportunity for young people. "The number of drug addicts is increasing, especially among young people between 18 and 30. We have been studying the issue to find the reason behind it. Poor quality of life and widespread unemployment are the main reasons. Young people cannot get a job and try to find a solution to their problems by getting high," Kodirov said.

Abdullah Khojaev is a psychologist who has worked for a drug rehabilitation center in the northern town of Khojand. Khojaev said his patients would tell him how their craving for drugs would drive them to commit crimes. "They use different means [to find money]. Young, drug-dependent women would opt for prostitution to earn money for drugs. I knew some young men who demanded money from their parents by threatening them, by force. The other option is, of course, theft," he said.

There are five drug rehabilitation centers or subunits in Sughd Oblast alone that provide medical support for more than 960 registered heroin dependents. However, Abdullah Kodirov insists that drug addiction is a social crisis and it takes the whole society -- not only doctors -- to solve the problem.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.